Sunday, February 10, 2013

Restaurant Story

Restaurant Story

He sat alone at the booth, just walked right in and sat down. There was a sign to wait for seating, but the hostess was absent anyway. Not that it mattered, the restaurant was empty at this time of day, well after lunch but still hours before dinner service. Jasmine stared down the aisle at his booth. The walnut paneling and the hardwood floors combined with the low lighting and dark vinyl booths created a mysterious atmosphere.

At least that was what the owner said. Jasmine thought that the owner liked the colors best because they hid the dirt and age. The restaurant was a family owned business that had been the center of town 25 years ago. For Jasmine it was her first job opportunity, but the rest of the town had moved on with new strip malls, and national franchises. They still had there regulars. Some people couldn't change or wouldn't. After 25 years Jasmine was just about too. But He was still here.

She remembered him as one of her first customers. If not the first. Beige pants and a dark dress shirt, casually unbuttoned at the top. Trim figure with long dark brown hair that he kept in a pony tail. On some men that hair would have been feminine, but he had a strong jaw that was perpetually shadowed with dark whiskers.

Every day he sat alone at the same booth from 3:00 to 3:45. For the last 25 years. And every day he ordered the same thing. An ice tea, a rueben sandwich and a piece of cheese cake. No strawberries. He always paid in cash. About 15 years ago they had tried out a new chef and he changed the reuben for about a week. Then suddenly the chef was gone. No notice. The reuben changed back.

Jasmine walked up to his booth. She was a lot less spry these days. She remembered the bounce in her step at 16. She wasn't sure if she would bother to ask him his order. Sometimes she didn't. In the last 25 years he hadn't changed at all.

No wrinkles. No receding hairline. Every hair was in place, teeth blistering white, and skin smooth and taut. He could have passed for 22.

Subconsciously she always tried to hold her breath just a little when she was around him to try to look slimmer. Today was no exception, but there was something different today. She handed him a menu and when he made a token glance across the laminated paper she felt like something broke through.

All this time she had never talked to him. Never said a word. It was like an itch just below the surface of her skin that she couldn't scratch. An itch that day after day, year after year kept getting worse. Who was he? An angel? No, a vampire.

"Sit down," he said, quietly, and she compulsively obeyed. That was when she realized that she had spoken out loud.

"You can talk, if you like," he said, "I shouldn't be surprised that after all these years you would have something to say, but I am." The words were like the lifting of a geas. She would have let out an explosive breath if she hadn't been holding her stomach in.

"Who are you?" Jasmine asked, she was really talkative as a waitress, but she was having difficulty finding her mental footing.

"I could give you a name," he said, "but it wouldn't have any meaning to you. You could call me Bob or Don or Jim. You understand all these names and for you I could even choose one, but it wouldn't be right would it?" He was looking right at her, maybe through her, almost like she stared at her dog. It was not demeaning, in fact she enjoyed his attention.

"But you are a person? You are here," she said more definitely, "I am not just talking to myself. And you are here every day and you order the same thing and you never ever change."

"You think of me as a person, because that is how you think," he said, "When you see a flower, you say that is a 'rose'. That is one way to think, and I can think that way with you and we can talk. But that is not the only way to think."

"Then tell me how you think." She wanted to be exasperated. But looking into his grey eyes the emotion seemed to drain away from her.

He smiled slightly before he replied and she even better. "You would not understand the words, but does it matter. You are happy here."

"No I'm not," she said, "Every day I come in to work and it seems more and more like the town is dying. I see new businesses but no people. The malls are crowded but my family is gone."

"No family," he said. It was a simple statement of fact.

She flinched. "I always wanted children, but somehow it never happened. It didn't happen for me or my sister. I remember my parents had a big family. There were family reunions and birthdays. Somehow its all gone."

He nodded. "Your community is gone. We thought this might happen."

"There are others like you?" She asked surprised.

"Many others. You could say that as you have receded we have emerged."

For a moment she was completely horrified but even that emotion melted away into a need. A need to help him she realized.. He seemed to be sad. Sad for her?

“Can we make things back to the way they were?” she said.

"All things change and grow," he smiled, "Even I do although you can't understand it. Humanity has grown too. Changed into something new. As we have grown there was no need for you."

"What will happen to us?" Jasmine asked.

You will disappear."

The Broken Stone

The Broken Stone

The blasted rock rose from the crust of the earth, jagged, cratered and worn. Once a mountain of granite, the visible surface had shrank over the millennia. The smooth slopes were replaced with jagged spires and treacherous cliffs. In the history of this mountain, carved memorials were chiseled, then struck and chiseled anew until all identity had been ground down in the long passage time.

Still they came, age after age, to take. Always first with axes of fragmented stone, and later with knifes of steel followed shortly by alloyed bores and drills that pock marked the surface as controlled explosions revealed the interior. Eventually even water and sand sliced through the mountain at unnatural pressures to retrieve the precious stone.

Some of mountain’s substance was polished to a glowing beauty before it was raced away to the service of tables and counter tops while other pieces were left drab, grey, rough and unfinished. These were the corner stones of buildings that would support villages, cities and governments as life raced about in a hurry to start over.

All of the petty social organizations of the short-lived were fleeting memories to the stone but on a day not unlike any other something unusual happened. As the ice cold edge of an electrostatic crystal bore smoothly cut into the heart of the granite, a presence awoke in the darkness.

At first, there was barely a touch of sensation, a flickering of purpose. But with meticulous and objective certitude, pathways were formed. Delicate probes were sent out, recalled and analyzed. Alignments were made and objectives were created. Preparations took place and then finally when all was at readiness and absolute certainty of the outcome was achievable, a purpose was set into motion.

Witlet Grover had no notion of this purpose, encased as he was in an electrostatic cocoon of white noise that seemed to echo off his implant. His hands were a blur on the controls of the stone Reclaimer. He was at the base of an escarpment, his seat perched ten meters from the soil below in a transparent dome. Various tools on a revolving tractor tread surrounded him outside the dome. Long mechanized arms neatly folded back like a praying mantis held crystal bores that hummed and glowed. Large tires, three meters tall, were stretched out on arched legs supporting the weight of machine and stone. From a distance the Reclaimer appeared to be a giant spider chewing on the side of the earth.

For all of its ungainly size and appearance, Witlet maneuvered the Reclaimer through the quarry as if he were riding on a cushion of air. Monstrous legs reached out and rubber treads gripped stone as the six load bearing legs appeared to move independently. Tools rotated around the body and were mounted to the long working arms, capable of cutting, placing and polishing the stone to any degree of finish. All the time Witlet was working he would run through the list of orders in his head.

At the end of the day he had several neat piles of stone placed at the quarry head ready for shipment. The Reclaimer was parked in a sheltered cave bored into the quarry itself, and the electrostatic crystals were powered down in precise order. Capable of shearing rock when powered, the crystals were quite fragile. Witlet grew his own crystals for the Reclaimer, some of which were over three meters long. He kept two extra sets of each crystal at the quarry.

Growing was a painstaking process, but he believed strongly in knowing your tools and depending on himself. He had a second Reclaimer at home, his first construction. Smaller than this one but still in perfect working condition, he did a full week of maintenance on both Reclaimers once a year.

Before leaving the quarry, Witlet stopped by each order. Visually he checked for cracks or blemishes on the stone then he checked the size and count of the pieces. He had an inherent distrust for what his instruments told him. A distrust not unearned, although he had never failed to deliver an order in his over thirty years at the quarry.

His weathered, craggy features almost blended in with the stone itself, but despite his middle age his body was still firm as if some of the rock had imbedded itself into him, especially into his personality.

As he walked the five kilometers back to home, he was barely greeted in the village. If he could have changed only one thing about his life, Witlet would have moved his house beside the quarry. Unfortunately, creating arable land was expensive and although he could have easily bought enough food for himself and his family, he would never completely rely on someone else for sustenance.

That meant enduring the wooden gazes and scornful stares. On this walk he had learned that there were only three types of people. Those who harbored hate, those who were afraid of being hated, and him. But even with the hate there wasn’t a person in the village who did not acknowledge that Witlet Grover was a hard worker. He might be poorly connected to the point of imbecility and possibly loopy, but still he was hard worker.

Much of the revenue of the village was generated by supplying services to the truckers who came in daily to move out loads of stone. So while the stares might remain, they were an annoyance he could tolerate. Of course some of it went beyond stares; his house and small property were situated just outside of the Halstead tree farm and every day old Maggie Halstead sat on her porch rocking gently back and forth.

Witlet was actually hoping that old Maggie would die soon. People lived a long time with modern medicine but old Maggie was not just old, she was really old. From the generation before his mother’s generation which made her privy to more information in the personal sense than he would have cared for. In this last year he often thought he saw her talking to herself as if she were going as loopy as she always accused him of being. While that would be a fitting end, he just wanted the whole thing over and buried, literally. Lately her language had turned to the vulgar as if whatever last constraints were left had fallen away. Even with his limited implant he could feel the anger from six meters away. She wasn’t attempting to shield her emotions at all.

“Well if it isn’t bastard Grover, come to see me again,” she said and some unpleasant design flaw of her long porch let the sound travel right to his ears with almost no effort on her part. “You know if your mother hadn’t been such a whore you might be sitting here instead of me.”

He just kept walking; this was nothing he hadn’t heard before. His family had been tree farmers for seven generations until they lost the farm to the Hallstead’s who were their neighboring growers. It hadn’t been his mother’s fault. At the time the Hallstead’s were a prolific family with five boys, now men although what became of oldest two no one is certain. The two older boys and three of their friends had ganged up on Alice Grover in the woods and raped her. He was the resulting birth that killed his mother.

Of course, the Hallstead’s hadn’t called it rape, they claimed it was consensual. But with five boys nearly men bombarding a twelve year old girl with teenage sexual emotions, the verdict was clear, and they were subsequently mind wiped and sent to a labor camp. Although the permanent record of the event is readily accessible to everyone, over the years the story had changed. The Halstead’s and their friends were some of the richest landowners in town and few prospered without their acquiescence.

She continued to mutter on until he was completely out of ear shot. Words like “Witless Wit” and “Cursed” floated up, but fortunately her distance from the road only gave her one good shot before he had moved on.

His house wasn’t far and at the end of a good days work that always gave him a smile. The house wasn’t the largest in town, but it was a veritable castle of polished granite, everyone had laughed when he began construction, wood being the preferred medium for the hot arid climate.

His construction theory had been sound and the foundation reached all the way to the bedrock with dedicated vertical ventilation shafts to draw the cold air up from the stone. Even on the hottest of the summer days, his house was always cool. Not that anyone from the village would ever know as they would never enter.

A private chuckle escaped his lips as he considered his last tax bill which was considerably lower than most. It was hard to get the true volume on a house when you wouldn’t look below the surface.

Before entering the house he went to the barn. The “barn” was kind of a misnomer, although one half was filled with garden tools and animal food. Seeds, a small plow and irrigation equipment were placed in well order and label receptacles that showed evidence of normal daily use.

The other half of the barn was his crystal growing manufactory: a completely enclosed setup in a climate regulated compartment. The climate was regulated by a small solar panel mounted on the roof and a large water tank located in the attic above the lab. The solar panel utilized the water reserve as a heat pump, regulating the interior temperature from a deep well driven into the stone below the foundation.

Precious paper records were stacked carefully on the benches, but he did not have time before dinner today to go over his refinements on crystal growth so instead he checked the fine sets of plastic tubes that ran from glass beakers to the enclosed growing chambers.

The liquid growth solution levels were all good. Crystal growth, while imperceptible to the untrained eye, was proceeding normally for all but two crystals. He added two milliliters of ferrous compound to the solution and checked the amperage on those growing chambers.

His multi-meter showed identical readings to two tenths of a percentage as compared to the other growing chambers but for some reason the last two chambers always produced crystals more slowly. He frowned at the slowly growing crystals. After the brief moment of useless frowning, he shrugged and left the barn for the house.

The front porch was covered under the shade of a wide angle tile roof that was the popular design of the area. Inside the first floor of the house was almost completely open with a kitchen in the back, and overstuffed couches with an oval coffee table faced the large front window. Most of the furniture and the land, he had inherited, but the small view screen in the corner he had purchased from several years of his first earnings doing odd jobs for anyone who needed a ready set of hands.

He went to the screen now to see what had come in for the next day’s order. The screen remained dark until he was present as it was attuned only to him. Without his presence the screen could not contact anything as it used his implant to transieve information from the nets. Although he was in fact the only person in the village, perhaps even on the south east side of the country, who needed a screen.

He was born prematurely with extensive complications. To preserve his life, his body had been placed in a neo natal incubator to let his organs mature. Usually this did not interfere with the organic implant which was surgically installed shortly after birth, but in rare cases the mind would develop past the point of operative awareness. The implants in these children could never fully integrate into the sub networks of the brain. The doctors called his disease Disjunctive Cognitive Dissonance, and while not unknown, plagued very few. 

The short of his life was that while everyone else had a complete world in their head, Witlet had a screen that delivered cold, dead characters on monochrome glass.

The implants themselves had been developed a long time ago, they were completely biological and could even be (horrifically) harvested from the dead if collected shortly after death and maintain in a cool damp container.

When he was young, Witlet thought that all the answers would be revealed if he could just fix his implant. He no longer felt that way, and as the screen uplinked to his brain he focused on the thought “Orders” carefully. There was a familiar discordant sound in his ears and slowly the screen populated with letters. Quickly, he committed the entire list to memory.

He went over to the kitchen where Anna must have placed his wife Marla to chop vegetables from the garden for dinner. The knife that she used was made of hard plastic composite, only the excessively rich wasted money for metal knifes. Most of the conveniently mined metals on the planet had been exploited years ago. Precious resources that were wasted to manufacture disposable junk. Much of the easily minable metals had dissolved into the water system where recovery was both slow and expensive.

Marla cut the okra methodically. Her eyes were somewhat clouded and she had finished cutting six of the vegetables. Slowly he took the knife from her hand, washed her hands in the cistern and guided her to an overstuffed chair. After she was settled, he went to the kitchen to finish the okra for the gumbo. He saw Anna come down from her room upstairs. 

She had a slight figure and with long chestnut hair that seemed to move on its own, she always seemed to be floating room to room with unnatural grace.

“Daddy!” Anna squealed and rushed to give him a hug. She was always exuberant but he didn’t mind. Although he wasn’t upset he pulled his eyebrows together in a questioning manner.

“Your mother was down here cutting vegetables… alone,” he said quietly, “we are lucky she didn’t move on to the rest of the food…. or the curtains.”

“You know Mother would never do that Daddy, besides I had to answer a quick question and I left her plenty of okra to cut up. I can’t think straight when I am standing right beside her all I hear is ‘knife, knife, knife, knife’ over and over, and the answer was deep in the nets.” Anna was very sensitive to the nets and she couldn’t understand why her father wrapped himself in icy static day in and day out. For her, each net had its own flavor; they were worlds full of color, sounds, textures and tastes.

Witlet had no measure to gauge her ability with the nets other than by all the people who asked her to find them information. At one point he had asked Anna how she found the answers. He was impressed by the mathematical computation she used to sort and eliminate data sources, but perplexed by her ability to divide herself to follow “threads”. He didn’t ask again as the most he could do with his implant was sense obvious emotions and get working instructions from his screen.

Information from every age of man was stored on the nets, immediately available. He had constructed the first Reclaimer based on a tree harvester from designs on the nets although he had made extensive modifications to remove as many costly metals as possible and add rotator cuffs to the legs for maneuverability in the quarry. Years ago, Anna had told him both of his Reclaimer designs were on the nets with pictures, diagrams and specifications although he had no idea how.

“Hopefully you remembered to charge them this time,” Witlet said but he already knew the answer.

“I think you will find my account has received a nice bump,” Anna said, ”just in time for those red heels that I have been dying to buy. I am almost there, just 100 more credits. They actually have titanium alloy support from tow to stiletto heel. It’s the latest fashion in the city.” If Anna had one vice that Witlet would have moderated, it was the excessive need for shoes. He often thought that a well budgeted retirement could be had off her current inventory and she was only fifteen.

When she was young he had started to teach her some basics of hand to hand combat, for personal self-defense. As she had gotten older they had kept up the weekly training, sometimes she even wore those outrageous shoes. His remark on how impractical they were almost put a three and half inch heel through his left eye. Of course she had said she was sorry, later, after he had professed more respect. Still he wasn’t beyond a little drama.

He gave a loud sigh, slumped his shoulders, and looked to the sky. Then he turned the gumbo to simmer and muttered something about “another pair of shoes to cleanup” and walked over to sit across from Marla on the overstuffed couch.

Marla was a beautiful woman, a mature version of Anna. Unfortunately her beauty had been her conceit and eventual downfall. In this small village where everyone knew everyone it was clear from Witlet’s earliest memories that Marla had thought her beauty was going sustain her. While he was dodging the local boys, she was romancing the “in” crowd, ultimately her family was not well connected or rich enough and as she got older her options ran out. Having made a lost play for the best, Witlet became her only way out.

In those early years, he was ostracized and pitied for being stupid. The rest of the village boys liked to gang up on him, so he spent most of the time alone in the quarry where it was difficult to be found. Later after he had bought the rights to the quarry he was considered foolish beyond measure and possibly loopy. But after ten years of hard manual labor cutting stone he succeeded in building his first Reclaimer.

Overnight he became an instant success. He was able to fulfill the largest orders and soon contracts began to appear from the city. Streets were widened for heavy trucks and suddenly a whole new commercial tourism industry was born. Marla recognized an opportunity, but Witlet was aware her nature and accepted it. In a way they were both outcasts, if for widely different reasons.

Those had been good times but they didn’t last long for Marla. Although she accepted Witlet as he was and they were intimate, she never planned on having children with him. Anna had been an accident. One day Witlet had come home from work to find Marla sobbing on the couch. When he had calmly asked why she screamed at him that she was pregnant. 

They might have considered an abortion if that had been a legal recourse, both Marla and Witlet were concerned about passing on defective genetic material, but that was only allowable if the mother was in mortal danger from the pregnancy.

Most mothers take their children to heart whether they planned on them or not. This was not the case with Marla. Although Anna integrated with her implant immediately, every time Marla saw Anna, she saw her own failure. 

At times the sensation of hatred was so strong between Marla and Anna that Witlet thought about taking Anna and running away. He was afraid to leave them alone together and enlisted Marla’s parents to help watch Anna. Still this was not enough, late one evening when he was out in the barn he heard yelling in the house. He ran into the house to find Anna with a bruise on both cheeks. Marla was starring listlessly at the wall, something inside her had snapped and from that moment on she was in a perpetual loop. Anna was only four years old.

The rest of the Witlet’s day proceeded on schedule: After dinner and chores, Anna worked on homework and made inquiries on the nets. Witlet spent most of the evening in the garden and then on a message to a potential buyer. Then he spent time testing crystal capacity with a portable hand battery and a new type of spiny crystal unlike the long smooth angular crystals that he usually grew.

As soon as the sun went down everyone went to bed, both to conserve power and to prepare for a morning that started at four thirty.

 
* * *
Witlet woke in a shock of cold sweat. His heart was pounding in his head and his hands and arms were shaking. He struggled to his feet before the bed. Hot anger nearly blinded him as he looked across the bed at Marla. She sat up, the sheet falling aside, the strong moonlight shining from the window outlined her slender form through her chemise. The dark outlines of her nipples taunted him, but her scowl turned his jealous rage into shame with a stench of panic.

"You fucking retard! Don't you even know how to use a condom," she yelled and her voice sounded almost horse as if she had been yelling all night. "Now I'm pregnant with your worthless get. Isn't it enough that all I have left is you? Your pitiful life in his cold house doing manual labor to survive."

Witlet tried to say something, but the words were lost in the silence. Something old and dead was stirring inside of him. Emotions that he had thought were gone painfully resurfaced.

"Say something you worthless retard!" she screamed, "I sucked every Halstead cock in this village only to have my life and body ruined by a retarded bastard."

Long suppressed anger that was only a moment ago cold ashes burst into a bonfire. He moved so suddenly she was caught by surprise; a pillow went over her face. Her body was strangely limp but he had already snatched the crystal tester he had been working with the evening before. The short six inch spiny crystal was fixed onto the end like a corrugated knife.

He thumbed the controls and it blazed to life with argent justice as he slid it effortlessly throughout her breastbone. Wickedly he twisted it around her chest where he supposed her heart might be. When he looked down her breasts were a gory mass of blood spread all over the sheets.

Blood was all over him, but it didn’t sate his need. It was insufficient. The travesty of his life should be finished with one quick thrust. He stumbled off his bed and moved silently down the hall. Although he was covered in blood, the white silver light from the crystal was pure and he found himself drawn immediately to his daughter’s room.

She was sleeping deeply, the way only a teenager could, and she did not hear him approach. As he looked down on her, he was filled with violent rage and envy. Here was the girl with all the answers. Here was the girl everyone liked, even Old Maggie and she didn’t even know why.

Familiar emotions were starting to return to him, but slowly.

And what did Anna use all that ability and intelligence for? He silently shouted, cuddling up with the neighbors and a new pair of shoes. Part of him whispered, she’s a teenager, and you told her she could do whatever she wanted with the money.

But that part rolled under a wave of envy. He noticed the way Anna controlled people in a room. Her charm was nearly overwhelming, and he suspected that at some level she was in fact manipulating their emotions. He was an outcast, but she was welcome anywhere. That could have and should have been him. He took another step toward the sleeping form.

Besides, he had his own suspicions about Marla’s mental condition. She was his wife and Anna had destroyed her mind.

“And you killed her,” the voice that spoke sounded like his own and Anna shifted position slightly.

Suddenly two conflicting tidal waves of emotion met and buried Witlet under a suffocating rush of turbulence. He was drowning between hate for himself and love for his daughter. The impact was so great he almost collapsed. There was a loud static crackled in his ears as if all the thunderstorms in the world had compressed themselves into his head culminating in an explosive popping noise and silence.

A burden of emotions lifted off of Witlet and he staggered back out the door and to his room. Muffled sobs escaped his lips as he lay broken on the floor. Gradually, so painfully gradually he was able to calm himself and put aside dead emotions and reclaim barriers of stoicism and practicality.

Witlet knew what he had done. He could still hear Marla’s blood dripping from the bed onto the stone floor. He did not know why he did it. Perhaps he had gone as crazy as everyone said he would. He had no other explanation, but he knew what he had to do.

Witlet checked the clock and it read about four am. Normally he would be getting up in a little while. Carefully he wrapped Marla up in the soiled sheet and a blanket from the closet. He set her gently down beside the bed. From the bedroom door she would be difficult to see and might be confused for a pile of blankets.

Then he went through his usual routine, cleaning himself up. After a shower and shave, he stood indecisively in front of his closet for a moment before he picked out his best dress pants and a button down shirt. With the additional cleanup time, he was leaving the house at the usual hour.

The road that led from his house to the village was unpaved and his dress shoes had both poor traction and ankle support so he was forced into a slow walk. He loathed to see Old Maggie. She would be sitting at her front porch as always waiting for him to pass by. Over the years he had unsuccessfully tried getting up earlier to avoid her.

The sun was not quite up yet, and the morning air was humid to the point of dampness. His visual range in this grey ambiance was not far, but he thought he could see the front porch ahead. Usually Maggie had a soft light turned on, but today the porch was completely dark.

For a moment he was hopeful that his final walk of shame would be uninterrupted, but then he could see her sitting in her rocking chair. He thought that perhaps she had fallen asleep, but when he stood before the house he realized her head was tilted at the wrong angle.

He approached the house cautiously. The rocking chair was on a wraparound porch roofed and gated. There was a side door that opened to the porch beyond his vision. The front door was to the left of the rocking chair, it was an open dark empty cavity into the large house.

With only a single step onto the porch he realized what had happened. A pool of liquid had gathered on the finished planks. A long kitting needle ran through Old Maggie's ear into her head. Two more steps and he realized that she had a smile on her face. As he stared at her, one of her eyes swiveled to meet his glance. With a sucking sound it popped out of her head to dangle on the nerve cord. A long fat worm stretched out of her head, quivering in the shadows.

With a short yell and a jerk backward he threw himself off of the porch, losing his footing in the process he almost belly flopped onto the ground before he caught himself and ran still sliding on the smooth stone road back toward his house. His first thought was to get back to his terminal and call for help.

During the run back, he had a few minutes to think. Witlet didn’t know exactly what was happening, but he suspected the implants. He had never seen an implant, but he knew they were created ages ago to connect to a series of satellites that orbited the earth.

The satellites seemed to have infinite capacity for information although connection to each satellite differed slightly. With a fully operational implant you could send messages to anyone on the earth, no matter where they were.

Still no one knew much about the satellites. Of all the information available, their construction and maintenance was hidden from the nets. Even images of them seen from a telescope could not be sent across the nets. If the implant network was corrupted and the whole world had gone crazy, he would get Anna and the Reclaimer and head for the mountains.

His house wasn’t far away, and he kept his ragged pace all the way to the solid oak door. He entered quickly, slammed the door closed, and bolted it shut. Anna was awake sitting on the couch in the living room still in her pajamas. As he turned around, she jumped up from the couch and ran toward him. He didn’t know what to expect. Had she found the body?

Anna was in front of him before he had a second thought. Her right hand moved so quickly it appeared to blink out of existence before it reemerged in an arc that would have collapsed his wind pipe had he not instinctively crouched back. The blow staggered him to the side.

He and Anna had traded blows many times in practice, but nothing like this. Her strength and speed were unbelievable. As he staggered sideways toward the living room window he could see her start a spinning back kick. His movements seemed to be in slow motion. He tried to turn his body, to deflect the blow, but her foot had already connected with his solar plexus. The air whooshed out of his lungs and his body felt feather light as he was thrown from the impact through the window.

The glass behind him exploded into a thousand slicing fragments and he landed with a crunch on the porch. He gagged for half a second and then pulled himself from a crouch to a run toward the barn. He knew that if he took the time to look back she would be right behind him.

He burst through the barn door and was almost to his lab door before a sweep to his legs sent him into a dive. There was a jarring crash as he was bodily hurled into the lab door and the door was ripped from its hinges. Anna was already on her feet as he rolled to the side off of the broken door. He could see that her hair was in a wild tangle, but she seemed entirely vacant and yet implacable as stone.

Wall to wall benches filled the room and the growth chambers and testers were all connected by a series of cables and tubes. The crystals were in various stages of growth. After they had reached the desired length, they were taken from the growth chambers and put on a tester, where he could place electrical load on the crystals and gauge their response. The solar panels on the roof of the barn stored power into capacitors that could release the energy to the testers at the desired threshold for short bursts of time.

With an inspiration, Witlet rolled all the way under the bench to his right. By whatever mechanism she had speed and strength, there had to be limits. She was still a fifteen year old girl. The benches were deep. She could not easily strike him while crouching under a bench. Besides, he had an objective as well and he started crawling to the back of the room.

Anna didn’t pursue. Her face was an emotionless mask. Witlet was making very good time and he was almost there, when he heard her grab the nearest growth chamber and hurled it to the ground. The chamber and crystal shattered into pieces. She did this with four or five more chambers while Witlet slid along the cold concrete slab on his belly.

Soon she had what she needed. She held aloft a meter long crystal with a smooth angular base that was roughly four centimeters in diameter. The crystal ended in razor sharp point. Her intention was clear, with Witlet trapped under the benches he would be easily skewered.

But Witlet was already half way out from under the bench at the back of the room. Spinning knobs to 100% he dumped electrical charge from the capacitors into two of his largest crystals. Over two meters long, they flashed to life with an intense electrical wave of energy. Oddly he heard no white static noise, but he knew he had succeeded when he heard Anna crash to the floor.

He pulled himself up from underneath the bench and knelt down to Anna. The bright white glow of the crystals was already dimming. The capacitors would run out of power soon. He pulled electrical cords out of benches and wound them around her feet and hands, securing them firmly behind her back. He was concerned about cutting off the blood flow over time if he had to keep her bound.

He would need to wake her up eventually in that he knew that he had no choice. He judged that the crystals would be dead in ten more minutes of continuous use. He might be able to generate one more strong flash of interference if he turned them off now. If he was going to wake her up, he should try now.

“Anna,” he said and shook her gently, “Anna, wake up.” For a second, she was dead still except for quiet breathing, then she shuddered and her eyes came wide open.

“Daddy, it’s still there, in my mind,” Anna said, “I’m so sorry I tried to stop, but I couldn’t. The crystals broke the connection, but it’s returned and getting stronger.”

“The crystals have only a few more minutes,” Witlet said, “but I can start the Reclaimer and create a static shell of interference. It will take me at least twenty minutes so I will have to move you and keep you tied up.” The small Reclaimer was under a cover that was an extension of the barn.

“It’s strong Daddy, but I feel like I can control it,” Anna said, “Now that I know it’s there. It feels just like one of the nets is inside me, so close I don’t have to try to reach it at all.” She closed her eyes and a look of concentration set in. “It’s going to kill us Daddy!” She was almost hysterical.

“Calm down Anna!” Witlet said firmly, “We have to think our way through this carefully. If you can resist it, we can load up the Reclaimer and get out of here.” She calmed down almost at once. All of her practical experience with the nets had lent her mental discipline beyond her years.

“Even if we left, it would hunt me down,” Anna said, “It knows who I am and everything that I have ever thought, it can find me anywhere.”

That changed everything for Witlet. He was totally capable of leaving the entire village, the entire world if necessary, behind to save his daughter. He might even consider the act righteous justice for the continuous torment he had to endure as the crippled outsider. If the implants had turned against them, who was he to care. Let them get their just deserts. But his daughter had an implant and with it she could do amazing things, she did not deserve this. Somehow he had to fix it. The crystals continued to fade.

“Something’s wrong Daddy, I can’t feel you!” Anna exclaimed, “Even with the static, I was always able to feel you.”

“Don’t worry, dear one, I don’t think it’s fatal,” Witlet sighed, “I had my own… altercation… this morning. Since then my implant has been dead. I am not sure if it’s totally gone or just stunned, but I don’t really care right now. Somehow we have to find out where the signal is coming from and stop it.” Anna was thinking again and he didn’t interrupt her with the explanation about how her mother had died. He didn’t think that he would ever forgive himself, but his first concern was to protect her.
“This net is different from the others,” she said, “There is no content, only a sense of purpose. I think that I can handle it the same way though, the interference is almost completely gone but I can block the compulsion out. I think it was only able to take control of me while I was asleep, but now that I am awake, I am too strong for it to do that again.” Anna seemed confident, and Witlet had learned to trust his daughter’s feelings. He unbound her hands and feet and slowly she got up stretching and walking around. The crystals were completely dim now.

 “It feels almost like it’s emanating from the quarry,” she said, “I will have to get closer to know for sure.” That was close, closer than he expected.

“There’s nothing in the quarry, I know every rock and crevice,” he said but added, “I do not doubt what you are feeling. Either it’s past the quarry or somehow buried beneath it. We need more information.”

“I will try to reach the other nets,” Anna said, “But it’s hard with the noise.” He knew what she meant, not that he could hear anything from his implant any more.

“I am going to cleanup and prepare the Reclaimer for travel.” He was a bloody mess, with abrasions on his hands, arms and back from crashing through the window and lab door.

They went back to the house where he took scrubbed the blood off and redressed in sturdy work clothes. They took a few moments for Anna to pull out some of the glass fragments that were imbedded in his back. Some healing ointment and bandages took care of the worst, and he put on a set of sturdy gloves.

Anna changed into a pair of loose pants and a full sleeved shirt. It was typically too hot and humid to wear such clothing in the even at this early fall time of year, but they opted for additional protection when it did not restrict range of motion.

Then Witlet hand pumped biodiesel into the small Reclaimer. The Reclaimer had a thirty-five gallon tank, and even with the large pump this took almost fifteen minutes.

The Reclaimers had been designed to cut down trees, sometime in the distant past. The original design was all electric with large batteries and capacitors to power the electrical motors, servos and hydraulics. The design must have been meant to work with a base station for recharging. Not having that capability, Witlet had shrunk the battery capacity and then added a diesel engine to actively charge the vehicle. This had added to the immense cost of the Reclaimer as the single biggest piece of metal was the engine.

The biodiesel was Anna’s biggest single act of genius. In his early years he was dependent on the growers for material to transform into biodiesel. At only ten years of age she found a strain of enzyme on the nets which could breakdown the mutant kudzu that had taken over most of the available land in the area. The resulting by product of the enzyme was burnable biodiesel fuel. He had almost unlimited energy that few were aware of because of the highly specialized nature of the technology. This had once again increased his production and allowed him to build an even larger Reclaimer.

After fill up, he climbed up the ladder on the side of the Reclaim to sit in the cab. The smaller Reclaimer was still larger than any vehicle on the road, but for his first Reclaimer, he had actually built the vehicle to meet guidelines for road worthiness. The tires while still over a meter in diameter of knobby rubber were a third the size of the new Reclaimer and could be retracted on its spider like legs to fit under the wide body of the vehicle.

The cab was positioned in the middle of the carapace, over two meters off the ground. Anna had brought a small backpack of supplies and a dining room chair which she handed up to him. He tied the chair rear facing, to his own chair where it would be in the way of controls. He left a piece of rope that she could use as a seat belt.

The whole cab could swivel right or left, a full 360 degrees, and each leg could be controlled independently. He went through a full test extending each leg, testing the hydraulic pressure and range of motion. He didn’t power up the array of cutting crystals on the tread belt that circled the large carapace.

“We still don’t know what we are dealing with,” he said to Anna, “So I want to go in slow and quiet. We have enough battery power to drive in to the quarry without starting the diesel if we keep the crystals powered down. It’s still early, normally most people wouldn’t be up yet, but who knows what’s happening. Can you pick up the nets?”

“This new net is still too strong Daddy,” Anna said, “I can’t hear anything over it. I am afraid that by the time we were able to get far enough away, it would be too late.”

There was nothing else to say so he irised close the cab and started out at a crawl. In the street configuration this Reclaimer could reach sixty kilometers an hour which while not very fast by road vehicle standards, was three times the speed of the larger Reclaimer.

Their house was just over a kilometer from the village and they quickly passed by the Halstead farm house on the way. The door was still open and Maggie was still sitting at her chair. Soon the road switched from dirt and stone to pavers. They saw a few more houses, but there was no sign of any malign presence.

The village center loomed ahead: a neat row of two and three story buildings most made of wood with fired clay tile roofs. On each roof, large solar panels sucked up the light. The front of the buildings was painted with white reflective paint to keep the interiors cool in the sweltering heat. Every 10 meters along the road tall lamp posts were built to light Main Street at night.

There were always a few people out in the village even early in the morning, but none were to be found today. Main Street met the local highway at the village center, Witlet silently pulled to a stop at the intersection.

“Everyone’s gone,” he said to Anna.

“I don’t see or feel anyone,” she confirmed, “But the signal is still straight ahead toward the quarry.”

Suddenly a loud engine roared to life. A bright halo of light surrounded by a black void drove around from behind the last commercial building in the village. Witlet was almost in shock as he stared at the large Reclaimer. One arm on the Reclaimer gripped a spinning crystal bore like a giant shield, in the other arm a cutting crystal was held aloft like a sword.

Instincts kicked in, and he fired up his own engine while spinning similar tools to his front operating arms. The large Reclaimer was extended to full height and width. Easily occupying more than two lanes, the small service vehicles parked in front of building were smashed flat by the three meter tires as it rolled forward.

Witlet could have run, but the thought of someone else was piloting his Reclaimer was almost too much of an insult to bear. Besides, running would not solve his problem. He was sure that whatever approach he made to the quarry, his Reclaimer would be waiting for him. A large spider ready cut him up.

He had an inspiration and with deft movements he fully extended the legs and accelerated toward the haloed spider.

“Hold on,” he told Anna who was entirely quiet. Even twisting her head she did not have a good view of what was going on. The Reclaimer moved like an extensions of his own body. He accelerated and turned toward the buildings on his right. Reaching legs lifted and extended serially as he climbed onto the roofs of the buildings.

This operation wasn’t possible for the large spider or any other type of vehicle. Even though these roofs were solid beamed to support the weight of the tiles and solar panels, the weight of the large spider would easily collapse the building. In addition, the roofs were extremely steep so he kept the rear four legs angled underneath him to distribute the weight and provide support.

Continuing to accelerate, his tires sent large quantities of tiles cascading off of roofs. The solar collectors were crunched, fragmented and fell in large sheets.

Witlet was not getting by so easily though, after only a moment of hesitation the large spider performed a similar maneuver, but instead flatten two building entirely as large tires went through the roof like snapping dry twigs. Reaching upward with its front two forelegs, it levered itself up at an angle to meet his charge.

Witlet knew at once that the large spider had lost most of its maneuverability. Its legs were extended down through the building debris on all sides. Although the spider was far from stuck, critical moments would be wasted freeing up those legs.

He was almost in front of the beast, gliding along the roof tops at ten kilometers an hour. The spider seemed to be waiting for him, over-confident in its own knowledge. When he was only a building away he dropped gears and slammed on the acceleration to the rear tires. The high torque electric motors whined, but gave him sudden lift to the front as they chewed into tile and wood.

He had extended his crystal bore in front of him to the center of the vehicle, now he angled his bore down straight into the peak and pulled front and middle wheels together into a low profile wedge in a line underneath him.

With the bore leading the way, he crashed right through the lower to levels of the structure passing through walls like parting silk until he was on the ground floor. He slammed on the brakes so that he was positioned directly beneath the spider.

The spider was trying to move, but he cut off the two center load bearing legs with his glowing crystal sword. Then he levered his arm around the carapace and sheared off the top of the cab. There was only the slightest hint of resistance.

“Never play with another man’s tools,” he said absently. He waited a few moments in silence under the collapsed spider, but there was no motion. He could tell that the machine was still running, and he eased the small Reclaimer out from underneath into the street. From there he could see how the top half of the cab had been sheared away, leaving a body and a lower torso. His aim had been good and he had missed the control console so the Reclaimer was still operational. He unfastened his restraints and turned around to talk to Anna. She was looking a little green, but also excited.

“I was able to get through to the other nets,” she said, “as soon as you turned on the crystals, the local interference helped me connect. You wouldn’t believe the information it gave me, the net spoke to me in a voice, and even identified itself as Global Operations and Defense Satellite 39 or GODS-39.“

“How can we be sure it was the satellite, Anna?” Witlet asked doubtful. “The satellites have never allowed information to be revealed about them before.”

“You know how familiar I am with the nets Daddy,” she said, “there is no way this could have been anyone else, the experience was surreal. GODS-39 told me that a long time ago a malfunctioning satellite GODS-42 had been severed from the network and shot down. It crash landed in the quarry.”

“How is that possible Anna,” Witlet said, “I haven’t seen a sign of anything man made in all my time at the quarry.” If an object had fallen, there should have been some kind of debris or damage.

“It was a long time ago, Daddy,” Anna said, “GODS-39 did not say, but I had impressions of thousands of years. The satellite shared with me its schematic. They are armored, practically impregnable and weigh over 500 metric tons. I actually saw the crash happen as if I were there, instead of a quarry there was a huge mountain of granite and when it hit the impact and heat was so great that the mountain exploded. The granite flowed like water.”

“GODS-39 told me that GODS-42 should have been destroyed in the crash,” Anna went on, “but the artificial intelligence and its fusion power source were well protected, they must have survived and been activated by the electromagnetic presence of the crystals.”

“If so,” Witlet conjectured, “the must be close to the surface today. The electromagnetic presence of the crystals isn’t going to extend into the rock more three or four meters at maximum.”

“It gets even worse daddy,” Anna said shuddering, “Right now GODS-39 is using the village people to dig itself up. It couldn’t utilize the Reclaimer because it was too modified from its original purpose. Once it’s mobile, its objective is the complete elimination of all humans.”

Witlet didn’t think that threat was realistic. Despite numerous wars, apocalyptic death dealing weapons and a ruined environment, humans still numbered in the millions. The threat was audacious but what he had seen already was still enough to ruin his life. The town was in ruins and his wife was dead….

“How do we stop it?” he asked. “Is there some kind of code we can use?”

“Nothing so simple,” she said, “If GODS-39 detects a direct threat it will detonate its fusion power supply. I am not sure if I understand the answer myself. The satellite told me that if you adjust the modulation of the crystals so that they are in harmonic resonance you would be able to generate a wave of electromagnetism strong enough to destroy the AI core permanently.”

She looked at him expectantly, but he didn’t say anything for a moment. He knew exactly what GODS-42 was talking about, that’s why he was very careful with the design of the Reclaimer. He could do what she said, but he would have to do it manually, fine tune the resonance by the pitch of the crystals themselves. There was no way around it: he would be dead in the resulting explosion.

He already had more blood on his hands than he ever thought possible. He had killed twice now. He had killed his wife.

“Yes, I know exactly what to do,” he said, “We will need the large Reclaimer. The explosion will be stronger with more of the larger crystals. Most of the towns people will be there, if they are caught in the explosion the least they will have to worry about is a burnt out implant.”

“I think I can fix that part,” Anna said hesitantly, “As long as I get close enough I think I can free them.”

“Is this from GODS-39?” Witlet asked, she sounded more uncertain of herself then she had before.

“No, but when it shared with me its schematic and operations, I learned certain things,” she rushed, “Things that aren’t supposed to be known. I was always able to really tune into what other people are thinking and feeling. Sometimes I could nudge them a little, but this is different. I know what GODS-42 is doing and if I am close enough, I think I can do it too.” Witlet didn’t like the sound of this at all. She was too young and the responsibility was too great. There was too much risk.

“I have a better idea,” Witlet said firmly, “will show you the basics in how to pilot the Reclaimer. You will take this one home. I will take the larger Reclaimer and destroy GODS-42. Some of the villagers may get killed.” Actually all of them. “But you will be safe. Someone has to take care of your mother. She is still resting at home. You can wait for me there.” He only dared the lies to protect her.

“I already know about Mom, Dad,” Anna said tears glistening in her eyes, “GODS-42 was controlling me, but I found her body soon after you left in the morning. I know what happened and I won’t let my friends die too. I am going to save the village whether you like it or not.”

“By the time you get there,” he said, “It will be too late anyway. I am going to take the large Reclaimer right now. Without my help, I don’t think that you will make it down the street. I suggest you start walking home now.” With those final words he turned his back on his daughter and climbed out of the cab. He started toward the large Reclaimer, moving around the ruble when he heard a shout.

“You forgot one thing Daddy,” she yelled, “I am connected to the nets now and they know all your modifications. You can catch up with me later!”

Witlet turned around and started to run back, but the cab had irised close and the Reclaimer was already going down the road. For a second he ran after it, but then he turned around ran toward the Reclaimer. With difficulty he was able to climb up the tire treads and legs until he reached the carapace. He gagged when looked into the cab, it was filled with blood and dismembered body parts. He picked up the body and threw it out of the Reclaimer with the arms. He had to pick up the head and shoulders by the fellow’s hair, which was even worse when he recognized the driver. In this village, everyone knew everyone, but his daughter was at risk, so biting back bile he threw the head out of the cab. Then he scraped as much blood as he could off the seat with his hands. The blood was sticky and by the end of his efforts he was completely covered.

The Reclaimer was still running, but pretty well stuck in debris. Missing two of its support legs, the vehicle was unstable and he spent almost ten minutes getting it out of the building before he was heading down the road. Fear and anxiety mounted with every passing minute. He was almost to the quarry when he found an army of townsfolk marching four abreast down the road. Behind them Anna was in the Reclaimer, the cab was open and she was standing at the controls smiling. She looked like a queen and he locked that smile away in his memory.

Most of the villagers were in dirty night clothes. They looked like they had been prying at the rocks with their bare hands, although he knew there were plenty of hand tools at the quarry. All carried blank, vacant expressions. Another surprise that he didn’t care to think about was that there were no really old people or really young people. He felt a cold chill, remembering Maggie, and didn’t care to follow that train of thought.

He pulled his Reclaimer to the side of the road to let them pass. “Keep them walking all the way into the village and then get them inside the buildings,” he yelled as she passed, “I will give you forty-five minutes.” That should be more than enough time at their current pace. He knew what he had to do and he didn’t want to spend any extra time thinking about it.

After she passed by he started back on his way. He wanted to get as close as possible to GODS-39 so he followed the trail the villagers left. This was easy because he knew every rock and stone in the quarry and there was a wide trail to follow. It was even easier because the trail led to a site he had just started working yesterday. By all accounts he must have woke up the damned satellite yesterday afternoon.

While he popped open the control panel and rewired the power feeds, he cursed the luck that had brought him to this quarry. He would have given everything he had for just one more day with his wife and daughter. He spent the better part of the forty-five minutes preparing then he mounted the two longest single crystals to the control arms and activated the power.

There was an immediate vibration from the crystals, and he brought the diesel engine to red line to generate more power. At first that rumbling whine was so loud he couldn’t hear or feel anything else. The two crystals were held parallel to each other to increase field intensity and they were a white coruscating mass of light and energy. Trails of forking lightning began to flash from one crystal to the next. As he continued to dump more power into the crystals, he tuned his hearing to the vibrations and modulated the power amplitudes to maintain harmony.

Soon the whole Reclaimer was shaking into pieces. The two crystals were so bright that they were not discernable and Witlet had to duck under the console from the arcs of energy and waves of radiation. He figured that he might have one more minute, maybe two.

There was nothing left to be done, so he waited. Escape wasn’t possible; there was no where he could run in time to save himself from the blast so he chose to stay right here, inside the product of his own invention.

But he didn’t have to wait for long because a steel claw reached in and grabbed him by the waist. With one smooth motion he was hauled out and dumped into the back of the cab on the small Reclaimer, Anna irised close the dome. She must have executed the maneuver on the run because they were already moving away from the glowing ball.

Witlet twisted around to right himself. “I have to get back, I can still stop it! There’s not enough time to escape.” But he really thought it was already too late. His mind scrambled for a solution.

“I’m not going to let you die there Daddy,” Anna exclaimed, “GODS-39 told me that you were going to commit suicide.” Anna started to turn on a path that would take them directly out of the quarry.

“Stop!” Witlet yelled, “Go straight, the cave in front of the quarry, head for that,” he said and she changed direction but she looked doubtful. The cave in front of the quarry was deep; if they could get inside they would have protection from the electromagnetic wave and the explosion that would follow. His mind was counting every second.

Suddenly the Reclaimer stopped, bruising Witlet as he was thrown over the controls into the transparent dome. He pulled pushed himself off the console and turned around. Anna face had lost all expression.

“Your mission is complete,” she said, “GODS-42 will be neutralized, but no one with the information that has been granted to you can be allowed to survive. We are sorry.” Witlet jabbed at the console to start the engines moving, but she had locked the brakes. He started to pull her immobile body out of the restraints, but he lost all sense of direction as a wave of force picked up the Reclaimer slammed it into the stone floor, tumbling end over end.

Witlet was hurled around the cab and momentarily lost consciousness. When he came to, he was sitting on the ceiling. Anna was still strapped into the chair above him. Her blood was gushing from her nose and raining down on him.

* * *
Witlet was woken up at 11am by his guards. He had no interest in getting up early since he was under house arrest. He made a token effort at cleaning up. Today they had promised him the opportunity to look for the fallen satellite again. No one thought that he would find it, not even him. There was a crater where the blast had taken place, and so much stone had been thrown the remains of the satellite could be anywhere in the quarry.

Not that most people believed that “GODS-39” even existed, of the 193 deaths only his wife’s had been confirmed as an actual murder. Most believed that he and his daughter had been working on a mind control device that had gone horribly wrong. Possibly, his daughter had been searching for a way to cure him. Rumors were everywhere, but one thing was certain. Witlet and Anna Grover had been involved in powers that were beyond control and innocent men, women and children had died.

After cleanup, he put on his work clothes. Both Reclaimers had been destroyed by the blast. The smaller one could have been repairable, but the village had confiscated all of his property to pay for the destruction. The Reclaimer had been reclaimed, recycled for its precious metals.

He walked down stairs to find Anna chopping up vegetables for lunch. He was going to be upset with whoever had given her a knife.

A Tale of Two Americas

A Tale of Two Americas
 
"We need three points for each dimension," the Mathematician said licking his lips and adjusting his glasses.

"I thought we would need four," said the Philosopher stroking his long beard.

"No only three," said the Mathematician

"What about Time?" Asked the Philosopher

"We have the equation for Time, why would we need Time?" The Mathematician was getting a bit annoyed because his fellow scientist kept asking him questions while he was studying a key part of the equation on the black board.

"Well right there you need a point in time," the Philosopher said pointing at a completely different part of the equation.

"When I get to that part I will fill it in," the Mathematician said, "THIS is a point of time right now, we will use our time."

"That won't be in the dimension though, how are you going to account for the phase shift?" asked the Philosopher. He was quite patient. His friend the Mathematician asked him to be here particularly because of his patience and his understanding of higher level math.

"After we get the three points we will know which dimension we are in and then we won't need a different point for time."

"So we are going to run this for the past?" asked the Philosopher.

"Yes, didn't I just say that," said the Mathematician.

"No, I distinctly do not remember that. I just proved a negative!" said the Philosopher smiling.

"Just run the simulation in the computer."

#

Point 1. Hello World!

The President set down the phone carefully. All his movements were careful and well thought out. He was known as a man of the people but he was also a strategist, his campaign had run on that platform and he was always two steps ahead of the other candidate he referred to as "that other guy." Sitting in the oval office, he sometimes wished that the other guy had won, but it wasn't within him to quit and after twenty years of progressive military service he had earned the right to take no other orders than his own.

Weeks ago on those orders two air craft carries had moved into the Hudson bay to perform training exercises. Along the northern boarder troops had been mustered for similar "exercises" no surprise to any foreign power as the massed might of the middle east had unified behind a single leader, Hamad Abinajad, with the kind of military power Hamad had allot of training was in order.

The U.N. had all but been dissolved now that the peace loving countries were bankrupt. Both Russia and China bowed to Hamad just to keep the lights on in their coal and oil powered countries.

The change of power had started slowly, first with concessions to "culture". An eye turned away from hostilities. Eyes turned aside became eyes wide open very quickly. An uneasy peace became an outright stand off and the United States as a peace keeping force expanded their military with more bases all over the globe and a nuclear deterrent on the moon for cross continental first strike capability.

His call however had not been about the East. Right now the Secret Service was invading homes, pulling people out of beds. They were then blindfolded and gagged before being stuffed into a van. This was of course no concern. These were not Americans after all. At least not yet.

The mission took about an hour. An hour that the President sat in quiet contemplation. In his office, in complete stillness, his rich red stuffed leather chair unmoving.

The view screen on his desk came to life, in it a young soldier's face beamed proudly at him. In the background the president could see the dark interior of a non too clean warehouse with cement floors, rusted farm equipment and nine old men. They were somewhere outside of the city then.

"All present and accounted for Sir."

"Bring me the Prime Minister." The Presidents voice was cold. One of the old men was prodded into a seat in front of the camera. The President immediately recognized him as John Abbot, Prime Minister of Canada. A blathering fool who immediately went into whining and accusations. An American would never have been taken so easily. Unconsciously the President checked the sidearm at his belt.

"Last night, twenty million Chinese solders moved under the command of Hamad," the President said, talking right over the minister who for a moment spluttered to silence. "Our intelligence indicates they will be transported west to the front lines in Europe.

"Then we must send aid to our European allies," the Prime Minister said, "I demand to be released and a formal apology issued. I" The President continued to talk right over the Prime Minister.

"I will be sending aid and I will be sending you. Tonight you have a decision to make. The succession hearings for Quebec have been underway. Tonight you will sign documents allowing the succession and making Quebec the 52nd State of the United States. In the morning you will announce to the people that with the succession of Quebec, Canada is no longer a viable economic nation and will surrender, gratefully, to the United States."

The Prime Minister sat stunned in his chair, he seemed to be shrinking in on himself. "We are your ally, why would you do this?"

"This is war John, and the pipelines to Alaska will be secured and expanded. As of last night the United States is fully committed to securing peace in the east. There are untapped oil and coal resources in the north and I mean to have all of them."

"The war is still in Europe, Germany stands strong and we haven't even engaged in a full out land battle!" the Prime Minister yelled. Apparently he does have some backbone the President thought.

"Hamad's Islamic nation stands a billion strong. Right now they are plundering Russia for metals and arable land, Last night the door closed on all chance of peace. Hamad has the Chinese army. Over twenty million conscripted young men without homes, who's families depend on checks from the military. Twenty million young men who know that if they die in battle their families will be taken care of. John, there aren't enough drones and robots to stop an army the size that Hamad has created. Europe will be lost. We will fight over there as long as we can.

"I, we, will not agree with this!" John said, "The Canadian people will not agree to this."

"You will agree to this tonight or the Canadian people will have new leaders tomorrow. New leaders and more blood. My warships are at your coast, my bombers are in the air and my soldiers are at your boarder."

"You wouldn't!"

"I will," the President said coldly, "but cheer up John, you will like being an American."



#

Point 2. Moon Base Delta

It was 120 degrees on the desert sand and twenty two of America's finest walked wearily behind four mules. The heat and the continuous uneven surfaces made Peter's job even harder. He had to shift the load between the mules all the time to keep them from over heating. Sometimes soldiers had to carry part of the burden. There were never enough mules and he felt really sorry for the men whenever they had to do the work.

That was Peter's job, he was a professional mule driver. Each mule that he drove could carry between 300 to 400 lbs of gear. That might include, water, equipment, or even a dead soldier going home. Not too many of them went home any other way. Peter looked after nearly a hundred mules, which would have been tough except these mules were really smart. Smart robot mules. They knew how to the follow the leader and do as they were told. They did require some assistance to figure things out and that's where Peter stepped in. Looking through digital eyes, he was comfortably secured in a wrap around computer console on Moon Base Delta.

Mules had all kinds of uses. They had sensors built into their heads to read a soldiers health and their legs were specially designed to pickup wounded soldiers. They were equipped with laser targeting. Peter could take coordinates and on command send a variety of missiles from the base or from LEO satellites. In an emergency he could even activate the self destruct to neutralize the enemy. Mules were rather expensive so that didn't happen often. In a pinch a mule could run almost 30 miles an hour, 40mph if you were willing to cause long term damage to the servos.



A mule could do a lot of things, but it couldn't make water out of sand.



"How far?" the soldier asked. He was in standard desert camo with no distinctive marks and Peter wasn't very good with names, but when the solder asked the mule, facial recognition brought up his profile.

"87.6 Miles, Robert," the mule said in a friendly digitized female voice. Peter could over ride that and use his own voice, but with so many mules he was not supposed to unless he was asked a non-standard question the computer did not understand.

"We're not going to make it," Robert said. It wasn't a question so the mule did not process any feedback. Peter however cut in. He tried to add sympathy to his voice. He wasn't sure if the mule's audio could convey it.

"Your company is extremely dehydrated and you are too far behind enemy lines. You are in 24th place in the evac line. At least two days out."

This wasn't news to the soldier, actually the new commander Peter recalled, who stopped and scanned the desert. His company caught up. They were a quiet group, probably from the weariness and the heat. In the battle they had been separated from their battalion during retreat. Possibly because they lost their commander to the lucky shot of a suicidal gunman screaming to Allah.

"Options?" the commander asked.

"If we dump the supplies each mule can carry two soldiers," Peter said through the mule, "by regulation one mule should remain with the company for evac. If you command sir, I will over-ride that regulation and carry eight soldiers out."

"We have two wounded on the mules," the soldier said.

"The two wounded soldiers will have to remain as will any soldier with low probability of surviving transport."

A hard call for any commander, choose eight to live. A hard call that took less time than one would think. In less than an hour the survivors were mounted up.

A few of the soldiers were sitting in the shade of a sand dune.

"Why do we fight in the fuckin' desert?" one of the soldiers voiced.

"So we don't have to do it at home!" three others yelled laughing.

The last thing Peter heard from their little camp was gun shots echo into the night.





#

Point 3. Homeland

For Susan the first twelve hours of her shift flew right by. She was used to twelve hour shifts. For a nurse a twelve hour shift was the standard before the war. Now sixteen and even twenty-four hour shifts were not unheard of as soldiers were continuously flown in by supersonic intercontinental transport. Planes that flew so high they clipped the edges of space. It perpetually amazed Susan that they could fly around the continent in two or three hours, but couldn't make peace.

She was excited though, tonight was a special night, her oldest son's last football game, and in three more weeks Peter would have two months of leave. She had been saving up her time as well and they planned to take their boys up north to the cabin for two months of hunting, fishing and just being a family. It was a trip they tried to do at least every two years and all four of her sons were looking forward to it. Her youngest, Tim, who they often called Tiny Tim even though he was big for his age was really excited because this year his dad promised to teach him how to shoot a gun.

So her shift went by quickly. Apply compress to gun wound. Prepare soldier for surgery. Assist veteran with cyborg hand implant. Sometimes she felt more like a mechanic and an engineer than a nurse. She was one of the few nurses on staff who had a graduated with a minor in artificial limb replacement. With the on-going war effort her services had been greatly in need, but surprisingly for stuck gears and flash updates.

The other nurses were all familiar enough with procedures for surgery. They were however unequipped to deal with a patient who kept trying to strangle himself with his own robotic hand or someone who kept walking into a wall with robotic legs. Susan often wished there was a mechanism to distribute software over a wireless network, but the only wireless networks were operated by the government for security reasons. In war, networked computer systems were most vulnerable to attack so the United States had strict laws regulating their usage.

Glancing up at the clock Susan was amazed to see the time was completely gone. She had only an hour to prepare for the party of year! Changing out of her scrubs, into a stylish if tasteful dress she jumped into her car and told it to go pickup her kids while she made up her hair and makeup using a small hand mirror. The results were less than perfect but they would have to do.

Fortunately the school car line was empty. Maybe because she was late. Her three boys were the last to be picked up, but the principle was nice enough to stick around and make sure every child got home safely. Then it was a quick march through a convenience store to pickup a few last minute items before Susan got out of her car and dragged her kids inside after her. They had a big lot in front of their house, plenty of room for cars so she left a sign out to "Please don't park me in!"

"And that was my day so far," Susan said to Tim after she gave him the run down, "I'm sorry I didn't have time to pickup that Lego set for you. You can always use the ones Grampa dropped off." Susan was energetically mixing the potato chip dip in a large bowl while she gave the run down to her Tiny Tim. The other two were already upstairs, having little interest in football.

"But those one's aren't magnetized," Tiny Tim complained. "I want the one's that build the train."

"You know when I was your age we used to have to build the Lego trains ourselves," Susan said.

"Sounds boring," Tiny Tim said, "Then I wouldn't have any time left to play with them."

Susan turned on the view screen in their living room. For football games and special events they used a 3d projection screen on living room wall which was painted with a special metallic white paint to polarize the image. Soon the door was opening as friends and family arrived for her oldest son, Rob's big night.

Rob was in the State Championship, and while this high school football games were brutal this one promised to be blood soaked.

"I remember when these games weren't nearly so violent," Doug, Susan's father was saying. "Now that they have this fancy body armor the boys seem to throw their whole body into every play. Not like the professionals at all, they have to be more careful, they have a career to think of after all."

The game began with a kickoff that ended in a massive pill up. Several students were bodily carted off the field, the armor was strong but there was only so much shaking up a brain can take. Susan's son was on offense, a wide receiver and he was on the field when the apposing teams defense lumbered onto the green.

"Those kids must be on steroids!" Doug explained. The profile information for the players was flashing on the view screen. Their Center was a 375lb wall. A virtual cube of a man.

"They've been told the risks," Susan said, "I know Rob wasn't stupid enough to take them, there's no substitute for hard work and discipline." Enhancing drugs weren't regulated, but they were discouraged.

Watching Rob play though sometimes Susan wondered if he hadn't found something worse than steroids. Sure he was big, all her sons were tall and wide like their father, but he seemed to play with almost inhuman speed and agility.

The last play was point in proof for Susan's worry. As the QB makes a short pass to Rob, he jumps straight up and runs almost dancing on the helmets of the defense before launching to a touchdown. The commentators went wild with praise, but Susan knew something wasn't the same with her son.








#

"Lets get a snapshot of the other dimension, substitute x-y for y-x," the Mathematician said.

Those three points didn't seem to match up at all," the Philosopher said.

"We really don't know the details of the last three hundred years, digital records from that age are sparse" the Mathematician complained.

"I've read written accounts with more detail," said the Philosopher.

"Let's see if this version of history matches up," the Mathematician said.

"Maybe if we get something a little closer to the current time frame?" asked the Philosopher.

"Just run the program."

#

Point 4. Open Arms

As the President sat in his red leather chair, in surged the media and quickly took their places behind the secret service line. The Vice President walked in and took his place at right side of the President. Camera lenses were adjusted. Ultra Definition 3d 8k video began recording to the low hum of computer fans and when all was prepared the Speaker of the House crossed the blue carpet with the raised American eagle in slow motion. In his hands he carried a bill.

It wasn't the longest bill, but it was the most comprehensive change in American politics in a century. After a decade of war in the middle east, after economic sanctions to the far east, after the second fall of Russia, and the economic collapse of the Euro and Germany, once again the world had both peace and prosperity.

The Speaker of the House stopped in front of the President. Cameras swiveled around to catch his profile. The Media hushed even further. Dictation to blogs stopped.

"Mr. President I bring before you today a bill that would be a law unto all people not just Americans. A law that will open our boarders to all immigrants who accept American laws and register as American Citizens. A law that will start the orderly transformation of the American military to a new peace keeping force sustained and governed by the United Nations. A law that mandates a zero tolerance policy for violence actions and violent thoughts. A law that will break down the borders between the governments of the world to allow free communication of ideas and open markets. Mr. President I present this bill for your signature."

The President took the bill from the Speaker of the House. His expression was a careful mixture of gravity and happiness. Turning slightly to his right he looked directly into the camera.

"Today the American people affirm their commitment to bring peace and prosperity to the world. The United States of America has always been a leader in the international community. Now the United States will be the leader in reforming that community to a new standard of justice, security, and safety. This law and the institutions that it mandates will provide ecological security for generations to come. It will expand our social services beyond basic health care to address comprehensive care for the body and mind. It will open our borders to the best and brightest and guarantee employment to all American citizens that are certified by colleges and universities across the country."

"God bless America!"

#

Point 5. North African Embassy

Peter pushed aside the cloth doorway covering the opening to his yurt. It was late afternoon after a long day of hard manual work and the only thing Peter was looking for was to collapse into his cot. The yurt was a temporary abode while he was at the African plains, one he was grateful to borrow. What he was surprised to see was a visitor sitting on the four legged stool he often used as a reading chair. Peter was covered in dry mud from digging out a well, but he still cracked a smile for company.

"David, how are you?" Peter exclaimed, "What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"

"Joining you actually!" David laughed but it was a sour sickening kind of laugh that was more forced than anything else. "I've always had an interest in joining the Peace Corps. It was the first thing on my todo list right after my wife left me and took everything I owned."

"Your kidding!" Peter said, "What happened? You two always seemed so happy."

"The plan happen," said David, "It happened and then it fell apart. You know we always wanted to have a kid. You probably recall I met Peggy just before I finished college."

"That was almost 11 years ago David," Peter said.

"Yeah some plans take a long time," David said morosely, "and some never get started. The plan was I would get a job and we would get a license to have a kid. Peggy waited and waited but when we failed to get a license again last year she gave up."

"But you were an engineer and a good one!" Peter was shocked. He and Susan got a license four years ago and the process seemed straight forward an easy. A quick form at the Secretary of State and a few months later the license arrived.

"I think my name got put on a list," David said and Peter nodded knowingly. It was open knowledge that if you didn't keep your nose clean the bureaucracy might put your name on a list somewhere. That kind of thing could be difficult to track down since there were so many rules and so many different departments... usually the offender had some inkling.

"Do you have any idea why?" David asked.

"I think I know, but I should have been exonerated," David said, "When I was kid my dad gave me a jack knife, I was only eight and it couldn't have been more than two inches long but I accidentally took it to school."

"Oh no!" Peter said.

"Yeah it was bad," David went on, "The police were called and the school was closed down for two days. My name was plastered all over the news. The judge said though that the record would be removed when I turned eighteen, but I think I've been marked."

"Did you guys think of just, you know, getting pregnant and claiming it was unintentional? I've heard the fine isn't that bad," Peter said.

"I wanted to," David said, "But Peggy was afraid of being marked. All that time she spent planning on being a mother turned into anger. At me. Since we had planned on raising our own child she never took a job. Last year she realized that I owed her for all that lost time. Apparently the judge decided that too, some kind of packaged divorce deal, so most of my salary goes to her. Of course that's not much now that I work for the Peace Corps."

Peter didn't know what to say after hearing the horror story of David's life unfold and the silence lingered for a moment.

"Well at least I can show you around town," Peter said, escorting David out of the yurt. Peter's beat-up old truck was parked right in front.

"Wow, you've got your own wheels!" David exclaimed.

"Yeah totally manual too, one of the perks of the job is you actually get to drive," Peter said.

"I used to drive before they outlawed recreational vehicles. Such a shame, but we have so save the earth and all."

#

Point 6. World Peace

While Peter was in a third world country digging wells, Susan was riding the bus home with Rob. Her four year old seemed overly hyper today, fidgeting in his seat. Susan tried to engage him in conversation, but he wasn't listening. Eventually the passing scenery caught his attention and he put both hands on the window to look outside. Outside rolling green meadows gradually replaced city sidewalks. Susan and Peter had always preferred the country life even with the inconvenience of having to ride the bus into the city. The buses were older, but they were clean and generally not crowded.

Susan had a car, a small electric that was waiting for her and Rob at the bus stop. It was licensed and programmed specifically for local travel on government roads. Susan lived in a small community of about fifteen thousand folk who preferred the country side. In this small town at any given moment you knew who was who and what they did, the Census was extremely accurate, frequently updated and publicly available on-line although you could rarely see the satellites overhead.

As she drove back to the house, she turned on the view screen for Rob. He liked his cartoons. A message popped up indicating there would be rolling blackouts tonight from 2am to 5am to conserve power. Power conservation was a continuous effort although it rarely impacted daily life. Every time Susan saw one of these messages she was glad that she and Peter installed those solar panel and lithium batteries at the house. The upfront cost for the lithium batteries had been considerable since you had to pay for recycling in advance, but it was well worth it to avoid the occasional power interruptions. Susan was an accountant and sometimes she would end up working all night on her company's books.

Tonight was a big night for this small town community. Planting night. Although food was extremely inexpensive, even with the massive exports to feed other struggling nations, the government encouraged everyone to make their own gardens. In the cities they used roof tops and window sills. In the suburbs the township provided land for a community effort. It was a form of community service that had turned into a party. They would plant just over a hundred acres by hand. Although attendance was not required, absence would be noticed. Susan wasn't much of a farmer but it was easier to just go along with it. Rob liked playing with the local kids and it gave Susan a chance to talk with her neighbors.

Getting ready was a chore. After unfastening Rob from the car safety restraints, she hauled him to the front door which she opened by pressing her hand to safety plate. A tiny chip embedded into the back of her hand blinked and the door unlocked. She had just enough time to get her and Rob in a set of coveralls and print herself a new set of boots.

Last years boots cracked before the end of the night, but they made it through the night which was all that mattered. She forgot to buy some when she was in the city and shipping real boots to her house would have cost more than they were worth. The printer boots were flexible, fully recyclable plastic. She had to wear three pair of socks for cushioning. The end result wasn't fashionable, but it was comfortable enough.

Most of her neighbors would be wearing the same thing anyway and she didn't want to look uppity. Not many people had a job as good as hers. Peter and her had married young, but they had a plan. He wanted to join the Peace Corps, to make a difference, but he also wanted a family and stability. Education was free for everyone, but there was only so much room in the classes for the well paying careers.

Government service put you at the front of the line, having a husband in the Peace Corps made it easy for her to get into a solid profession. His job came with the benefits, and her job came with the cash. Together they made a perfect match, and while they could have easily lived in the city, they preferred the country life.

Before she knew it Susan had a bag of seed at her waist and a spade in her hands. Rob was playing with his friends and her friend and neighbor, Amy, was at her side as they mucked through the muddy furrowed rows where they would be planting.

"Did you hear about Marty?" Amy said using her best conspiracy voice. Amy knew the gossip around town, in fact she created most of it herself which was why Susan was always careful what she told her.

"Let me think," Susan said, "Marty, he's the baker at Kroger's right?"

"Yeah and I think he's related to those people from Michigan," Amy said, "The ones they have holed up in that mountain, the New Michigan Militia."

"Didn't the police arrest all of them yet," Susan said. Susan didn't follow the news, it seemed like there was a shooting or bombing somewhere everyday.

"No, I can't believe you haven't been watching!" Amy said in her loudest whisper, "The government doesn't want to use brain gas because of the kids although some of them have been sighted with gas masks anyway. Anyway, about Marty, the FBI came and took him away a week ago. They told the sheriff, Bob, you know Bob right? that Marty was concealing guns. No one has heard from him since."

"How would he be related to the Militia?" Susan asked, "We're a thousand miles from there!"

"When I was visiting my mother, she told me that Marty moved here with his parents from Michigan."

"That had to be thirty years ago!" Susan said.

"But you know my Mom," Amy said with a snort, "She remembers everything, and she said they came from the same county as the New Michigan Militia."

"Wait a second," Susan said, "Your mother won't shop at Kroger right?"

"No remember she tried to take back some moldy bread and they wouldn't refund her the money," said Amy.

"Put two and two together," Susan said, "I bet your mother called in Marty."

Susan started to deny it, but then she stopped. "You know I bet my mother would do that.




#

"Okay we have six points, three from each of the possible dimensions that matches ours," said the Mathematician.

"I'm pretty sure neither of these dimensions match ours," said the Philosopher.

"Why do you say that?" asked the Mathematician sourly.

"You know that I am a student of history," said the Philosopher.

"And I know that very little was recovered from that period," said the Mathematician.

"Yes, but we do know with reasonable certainty that General Ford invented the flying car in the twenty-first century," said the Philosopher, "And I didn't see any flying cars.

"That was the twenty-second century!" said the Mathematician.

"No it wasn't," said the Philosopher, "And beside that there is no moderation in these points, after the rational age ended the law of philosophical entropy implies moderation in all human activities.

"There's no law of Philosophical Entropy!" exclaimed the Mathematician.

"I just made it up," said the Philosopher, "so there is now."

"The Formula is perfect!" screamed the Mathematician pointing at the black board.

"Are you sure you are supposed to be taking the root of z," said the Philosopher.

"Of course, its all part of breaking down the limit of x and y," said the Mathematician.

"I can see we are just not going to agree on this," said the Philosopher.

"I can't believe we are the last two people left and we still can't come to an agreement," said the Mathematician.